Filed under: academia, composers, featured guest blogger, music history, repertoire, women composers. Tagged as: German Romanticism, Johanna Kinkel, Lieder.
Featured Guest Blogger Anja Bunzel — On the Occasion of Johanna Kinkel’s Birthday, July 8
In May we featured a blog post by Anja Bunzel, and we promised another post by her, about her dissertation subject Johanna Kinkel. Below, in honor of Kinkel’s birthday, July 8, is that post. Bunzel is a Ph.D. candidate at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, and her work is funded by an Irish Research Council Grant.
One of the reasons why I chose Johanna Kinkel (8 July 1810–15 November 1858) as my research topic in musicology was her extraordinary biography. In secondary school I had come across Gottfried Kinkel (1815–1882), one of the key figures of the 1848/49 revolutionary upheavals in Germany, who was jailed in 1849, and freed from the Berlin Spandau prison by Carl Schurz (1829–1906) in 1850. His escape to London involved his wife Johanna’s meticulous preparation and the help of many acquaintances, among whom was Rebecka Dirichlet (1811–1858), sister of Fanny Hensel and Felix Mendelssohn. The biographies of both Kinkels struck me as something special, and I was intrigued by Johanna’s ambiguous position within their marriage. Johanna seemed to embody both a strong and emancipated engagement with the public sphere and also a distinctively caring and supportive role as a housewife and mother. Besides her planning of Gottfried’s escape, her revolutionary
worldview is reflected in her divorce from her first husband Johann Mathieux in 1840; her conversion from Catholicism to the Protestant faith in 1842; her second marriage with Gottfried Kinkel in 1843; the rather modern upbringing of her four children Gottfried (1844), Johanna (1845), Adelheid (1846), and Hermann (1848), and her democratic approach to leadership as director of the Bonn choir Bonner Gesangverein and co-founder of the literary association Maikäferbund. Moreover, her progressive views on the church, public opinion, gender roles, and compositional history are revealed in her fictional and non-fictional oeuvre, which includes poetry, novellas, drama, the two-volume novel Hans Ibeles in London, as well as music-historical, -theoretical and -pedagogical writings.
Kinkel’s biography was reconstructed, interpreted and contextualized insightfully by Monica Klaus in her 2008 monograph Johanna Kinkel: Romantik und Revolution. Kinkel’s arguably autobiographical novel Hans Ibeles in London and her pedagogical approach also received scholarly scrutiny. However, despite their contextual and music-aesthetical diversity, Kinkel’s 78 published Lieder as well as her unpublished Singspiele, Scottish songs, and duets without piano accompaniment have largely been ignored by modern scholarship, a point which, thankfully, was raised about five years ago by my current PhD supervisor Dr Lorraine Byrne Bodley.
The Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Bonn provides digitized versions of almost all of Kinkel’s published Lieder and thus enables easy access to these songs for performers and scholars. Among the scant scholarship to consider the music is the article on Kinkel in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (NGD), where Ann Willison Lemke takes a detailed approach to Kinkel’s songs, which include revolutionary ideas, and aesthetic characteristics of ‘lyrical melodies, rich harmonies, the prominence of the piano, expressive piano introductions and independent vocal lines’. Some of Kinkel’s songs have been recorded by Ingrid Schmithüsen (soprano) and Thomas Palm (piano), and Felicitas Bergmann (mezzo-soprano) and Véronique Pélisséro (piano). A small selection is also available on Youtube and on Sophie: A Digital Library of Works by German-Speaking Women, the latter of which features wonderful recordings of four of Kinkel’s songs: ‘Die Geisterinsel’, ‘Don Ramiro’, ‘Der Seejungfern Gesang’, and ‘Kölln’. Willison Lemke’s observation that Kinkel’s ‘compositions and other works are deserving of wider acclaim’ is certainly true today – fifteen years after her NGD entry was published and 206 years after Kinkel was born.
In response to this lacuna my own dissertation focuses on Kinkel’s published Lieder and aims to provide some detailed insight into the thematic and aesthetic anchoring of Kinkel’s songs. I scrutinize these Lieder with a view on autobiography, nineteenth-century Romanticism, and the German democratic movement of the 1840s. My final chapter is dedicated to a comparative analysis of a selection of Kinkel’s Lieder with settings of the same words by such contemporaries as Fanny Hensel, Bettina von Arnim (1785–1859), Charlotte von Bülow (1817–1908), Wilhelmine von Schwertzell (1787–1863), Elise Schmezer (1819–1856), Friedrich Hieronymus Truhn (1811–1886), Julius Becker (1811–1859), and Carl Krebs (1804–1880), to name but a few. Having a special interest in Kinkel’s songs, I was extremely excited to find her sketches for the Singspiel Die Assassinen, in which she set her husband Gottfried’s words, as well as her aesthetically progressive and unpublished Scottish songs and duets in the Stadtarchiv Bonn. Another important but rather inconspicuous source is archived at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, who, by the way, offer fantastic research grants to people who would like to do some research in their archives!
When I searched the RISM database for Kinkel sources last year, I noticed a little side note in the file of Kinkel’s published Chamisso setting ‘Die Mühle die dreht ihre Flügel’ (The Mill Is Turning its Wings), which read: ‘Contains further sketches besides the autograph of this Lied’. Struck by the idea of finding perhaps unknown sketches, I emailed the archive which was listed by RISM, Musikabteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv, and the response was promising. The autograph includes two pages: the first page shows the aforementioned Chamisso setting and the ending of a different Lied; the second page contains sketches for piano, most likely in A major. The note on RISM has now been updated and gives a more detailed description of the manuscript. I am most grateful to the Berlin Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin for the immediate response and for sending a scan of the second, undigitized page. The nature and purpose of its content is rather uncertain as the sketch might not reflect an independent piano piece in A major, but an exercise or a scribbled idea for a different song accompaniment. However, what is extremely interesting about this source is the first page, which includes the final fifteen bars of Kinkel’s setting of the famous poet Wilhelm Müller’s (1794–1827) poem ‘Vineta’ (‘Und der Schiffer…’). While the unfinished piano accompaniment in this manuscript limits our insight into the compositional-aesthetic potential of this song, this manuscript fragment proves that Kinkel must have set Müller’s poem even though she never published or mentioned it anywhere. Thus, these fifteen bars reveal that Kinkel’s compositional oeuvre must have been more extensive than we know today, because many of her songs might not have been published, an assumption which is supported by Emanuel Geibel’s mention of approximately twenty settings of his own poetry by Kinkel in a letter to his mother (Jugendbriefe, p. 116) – Kinkel published only ten Geibel settings. One additional verifiable Geibel song of Kinkel’s is included in her unpublished duets without piano accompaniment: interestingly, she set Geibel’s ‘Trinklied im Sommer’ (Drinking Song in the Summer) for two female voices without accompaniment!
While my own PhD project, which focuses on Kinkel’s published songs, is almost completed, this is not to say that I am ready to file away Kinkel’s compositions entirely as it shall be exciting to consider performances and editions of Kinkel’s (unpublished) songs, to watch out for further developments within the fields of song studies and the scrutiny of nineteenth-century domestic music making, and to trace further manuscripts which may show up – either of Kinkel or of such (female and/ or rather unknown) contemporaries as Elise Müller (1782–1849), Jeanette Bürde (1799–?), Charlotte Bauer (dates unknown), Carl Banck (1809–1889), Theodor Kirchner (1823–1903), Bernhard Molique (1802–1869), and Karl Friedrich Curschmann (1805–1841), all of whom share with Kinkel their biographical anchoring within the diverse context of nineteenth-century Romanticism, their distinct enthusiasm for the German Lied, and a rather unfortunate (but at the same time motivating) lack of recognition within the twenty-first-century research and performance communities.